‘Lessons of History’ Taught to Empty Classrooms

Many aspects of German life, people will tell you, have been shaped by the 'lessons' Germans have learned from things which happened 80 years ago.

'We' learned, you'll hear everywhere, that state killing is wrong, which is why 'we' adopted Art. 102 of the post-war German constitution, which bans the death penalty. And which is why 'we' lecture other countries on why they, too, should end executions.

Whenever you hear a German saying something like this, ask them: Who's 'we'? They'll be puzzled at first, never having given this question a moment's thought. But then you can Socratically lead them to the realization that 'we' refers only to the educated upper class. When the Basic Law was being debated in the late 1940s, the death penalty was still wildly popular in Germany, with approval routinely between 70 and 80 percent. And the man who proposed that abolishing the death penalty be part of the German constitution was Hans-Christoph Seebohm, a right-winger who also wanted a constitutional ban on abortion.

Which brings us to video surveillance of public places in Germany. Once again, the amorphous 'we' raises its head: 'We' suffered through two dictatorships during the 20th century in which governments spied relentlessly on their citizens, which is why 'we' don't trust or want surveillance cameras. 

Except that a recent poll shows 83% of Germans do want more surveillance cameras (g) in public places.

When History was teaching its Lessons, the people — like German university students today — skipped class.

8 thoughts on “‘Lessons of History’ Taught to Empty Classrooms

  1. Moreover! contrary to what Mr. Hammel’s neighbur Ludger claims, the German Katroffelanbaugesetz was introduced by King Frederick the Great, but 77% of Germans want more public toilets!

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  2. Andrew,

    When you write about video surveillance, do you take into account that modern systems are very different from a system that records a few channel on a VHS tape that needs to be recycled every couple of days?

    * material can/will be kept indefinitely
    * resolution is good enough for automatic facial recognition
    * system can automatically track people between cameras, the software can generate the path of every single person in the video over time, even spanning multiple days thanks to facial, behavioural and clothing recognition
    * the data will be merged with other sources of identity, such as fare cards, RFID tags and data from cellular carriers.
    * as data will be kept forever, any advance in machine learning, e.g. mood recognition, immediately applies to all past data.
    * different systems in shops, public transit, etc., can easily be networked to create an all encompassing surveillance zone.
    * when the system inevitably fails to stop the next terrorist attack, someone will ask for predictive behavioral policing to arrest people before they commit their acts. This will lead to harresment of thousands of innocents.

    I doubt that the 80% asking for more surveillance understand these capabilities. IMO these are frightening prospects. Anyone, and that includes people we don’t like, from AFD to Antifa and the IRS, will be able to trace every moment of our life, they will be able to tell where you went, with whom you met, and how your facial expression changed. All of this with the effort of a single mouse click.

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  3. In the end, it boils down to one choice we have to make: do we let in the scum of the earth? If so, we will need a police state to keep them in check. Even Israel can’t successfully screen out suicide attackers, and I would not want to live in a place with checkpoints everywhere. Neither do I want predictive policing and punishments based on group membership. “5 of your 10 clan members were in Cologne, we don’t know which, so we deport all of you and the rest of your family to encourage others.”
    Unfortunately that is the only remedy if we accept to let people like this roam our country.

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  4. @ X: Is there any reasonably recent example, in any modern Western country, of the use of individual predictive behavioral policing? There are obviously many examples of group precidtive policing (internment of Japanese and Germans during the wars in the US, etc.). There are certainly examples of predictive behavioral administrative restrictions that have been issued on an individual basis based on suspicions or past convictions (travel bans for known hooligans during soccer matches, no-fly lists). I’m asking a genuine question. I think if you are going to assert that “people will call for this”, you also have to discuss whether there is any real likelihood that any country, anywhere, would implement it. People call for a lot of things. I don’t see that danger yet, but I am certainly willing to entertain it if you can point to instances in the past or present where it has been applied (and I’m not talking about Sippenhaft and similar policies prior to 1945). Was there anything like this at the height of e.g. RAF or IRA terror?

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  5. The thing is, X, many of the possibilities you mention already exist in the dozens of advanced Western states which use more camera surveillance than Germany does right now.

    Yet I don’t recall any reports of these countries turning into terrifying Orwellian surveillance states in which people are whisked away by the authorities to secret prisons, never to be heard from again. Have you?

    The reason’s quite simple: modern surveillance stores *so much data* that nobody can or even wants to search through all of it at random for no reason. That would be like dusting every fingerprint in a bus station after an attack.

    Countries with modern, accountable, monitored police agencies such as Germany use the data to solve crimes that have happened in the past, not ones that someone thinks may happen in the future.

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  6. I think the question you should be asking is not whether this is happening anywhere right now, but where this potential can lead to in the future. The fact that democracies use these technologies more wisely than authoritarian systems is only mildly reassuring. In Europe, we know that democracy is not necessarily “the end of history”. We’ve witnessed systems that monitored your daily life in detail, using technology that appears to be ancient seen from today. And this wasn’t too long ago, either: Most of the people who’ve fallen victim to this are still alive. And in the current mood of random terrorist attacks and authoritarian parties on the rise, this isn’t a far-fetched paranoid dystopian fear. Dutch politician Geert Wilders (of the far-right PVV, who’s leading in some polls for the next general election) already proposed to ban Islam as a counter-Jihadist option. That would not only mean to close down every single mosque, but also to monitor any potential public or private room that could be used as a mosque, all bookstores and libraries (for they could sell/lend the Quran), all TV channels and personal computers. And this would only be the start.

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  7. Why do you say Geert Wilders and the PVV is far-right? Wilders and his wife live under constant police protection as a result of him doing his job, asserting Dutch values in The Netherlands (not a Dutch colony) and representing the will of hundreds of thousands of Dutch. You assume he has no legitimacy as if a democratic endorsement of PVV policies would have no validity while at the same time you flippantly accept a totalitarian religious ideology which is indeed an extreme rightwing political system. Can you not see the problem with your thinking here?

    I doubt anyone wanted the range of policing and counter terrorism measures that now need to be used. It is not really discussion time, there is no time. It already happened. Don’t you see evidence of a rapidly deteriorating security situation? I do and I can’t yet methodically follow the news outlets and government media statements.

    It is not just terror attacks which are motivated by Islamic ideals. My senior school age kids spent yesterday evening comforting a new girlfriend whose date was stabbed next to her in the street on Boxing Day. He’s in hospital and will physically recover. The girlfriend is a Christian refugee from the ME. She and her family sought safety and protection from persecution in Germany – and that is obviously not happening. This is insane, this is Germany now. Anyway, I’ll be very interested to hear what happens to the attacker, he was described as an Arab Muslim and was arrested at the time.

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  8. What will happen to the attacker?
    Nothing much.
    He will have had an unfortunate childhood, or been bullied in school, or rejected by a girl himself. Failing any of these, there is alsways the mental health excuse to fall back on, although this seldom seems to result in section img and committing to an asylum for the criminally insane.
    Anyway, what do you mean, attacker? Isn’t that a bit Islamophibic, or even worse, racist?

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